As a family of keen skiers, we’re always eager to explore new destinations. Friends have skied in Andorra in the past and praised the destination both for its stunning views and relative value for money, so with a little trepidation we decided to try and create our own ski holiday as the kids broke up from school for Easter, putting all the bits of the package together ourselves – to see how the experience and the costs weighed up.
How to get to Andorra
It became quickly apparent that there isn’t much information available about how to do this. We planned to fly to Barcelona airport (with EasyJet, Ryan Air, Norwegian and British Airways regularly flying from London this part was easy) and then arrange our own transfer to Andorra going forward. When snowing in Andorra, laws dictate winter tyres of snowchains are necessary and try as I might, I found it very hard to find an answer to my question of ‘which car hire firms supply winter tyres.
Blue skies and plenty of snow in April
In fact it quickly became clear during our journey, that those concerns were actually not necessary in April – there was no snow on the road between Barcelona and Andorra at that time. So the only question that really needs asking at that time of the year is: 'Does it cost more to cross the boarder into Andorra?' The answer: Eurocar do not charge.
Having failed to find answers to these questions from afar, and being unwilling to chance it at the airport with 2 children and three big bags of luggage, we opted instead to grab a bus. The only downside to this option was the fact that busses go only every two hours, and of course when booking ahead you have to factor in the possibility of flight delays and the time it takes to retrieve your baggage. But other than a 2-hour wait in Barcelona’s Terminal 2 for our Andbus, the process was very painless. The bus goes from just outside the B section of Terminal 2 (if you come in on an EasyJet flight as we did to section C, you’ll need to cross the carpark and follow signs to A and B, the bus stop is subtle, but accurately right next door to the Bloc Tecnic as explained on the ticket.
It's a great place for kids to learn to ski
Once it arrived, the modern bus was a very comfortable ride – and we got into Andorra La Vella bus station a good 20 minutes ahead of our 3 hour journey time.
Where to stay in Andorra
There are two main ski areas in Andorra: Valnord and Grandvalira. We visited both, and both have their benefits. Valnord is probably the best choice for the newer skier, with plenty of blue and red slopes. But Grandvalira, with its spectacular Pyrenean backdrop and, in April, stunning blue skies and sunshine, was a clear winner. We stayed in Corillo, a the very far edge of the ski area in the Andorra Ski Plaza Hotel, which is a great spot (and so, overrunning with) families.
The family rooms feature two bedrooms (and two bathrooms – what a treat!) – one with bunk beds for the kids, designed to feel like part of a treehouse, with slightly bizarre looking animals all around. All becomes clear as you take the gondola up to the ski area on the first morning and arrive right into Mon(t) Magic, a mystical snow zone complete with talking trees welcoming you to slopes and life-sized characters moving around the area on skis, much to the delight of the younger kids. It looks like a wonderful place for children to learn to ski. The button lifts and covered conveyor belts make getting back up the nursery slopes a breeze and the slopes are so gentle and easy to navigate it’s the perfect introduction.
For those more accomplished skiers, it’s only a short slope and another ski lift until you hit the miles and miles of blue, red and black slopes that cover this stunning area of the world allowing you to ski a full 240kms ensuring that in a whole week skiing, you’d never get bored. Some of the other areas within Grandvalira have plentiful piste-side accommodation available (which would make a great alternative to hotel stays if your family is slightly older (so the promise of free kids club and a huge buffet breakfast each morning isn’t quite so alluring. Not to mention the Wii console in our kids’ bedroom which is still a talking point).
Where to hire your equipment
Everything seems to be just a little bit easier and less expensive in Andorra than in the alps. We hired our ski equipment from the small Roc Vertical shop literally next door to our hotel and the cost was €9 a day for children and €19 for adults, with deductions for a full week of hire. The process was so easy for Easter week (the last full week of the season in Andorra so things are quietening down already) and the quality of the equipment hired was very high. There were various other ski shops around (many piste-side apartment blocks have a hire shop beneath or very nearby) and if you choose to stay a short walk away from the gondolas, the main entrance points to Grandvalira have family-sized lockers to hire for €7 a day.
Getting around in Andorra
The one downside to Andorra if you don’t have a car and want to explore is the lack of travel infrastructure. Unlike areas of the alps, ski busses are not plentiful, and are not free. As we wanted to try out both ski areas we were keen to get about and would definitely have hired a car had we realised there would be no snow on the roads at all. Taxis were plentiful and were what we used (the other alternative – the bus – wasn’t hugely practical as all services go in and then out of the capital Andorra La Vella so jouneys, especially with skis, were complicated). They weren’t inexpensive however; the journey from Canillo to VallNord was about €35 each way.
What do to other than skiing
Where we were based in Canillo, we were opposite the impressive Palau de Gel. Primarily housing an Olympic ice skating rink, there’s a whole heap of things to do in this fab leisure centre, and even better, as a guest of the Hotel Ski Plaza, many things are free. Ice skating costs just the €6 hire of skates, and the enormous rink is a joy to race about on (even if you’re slower and more unsteady on your feet than your children!). There’s also an Olympic sized swimming pool – again free to use and open 10am-10pm, so perfect for a post-ski relax. For some additional charge there are also go-karts to ride on the ice, but if you’re going to be staying at the hotel, make sure you pack your trainers, because tennis and squash is also available free throughout your stay. Other potential excitements include huskie rides, mountain zip wires.
For more information visit the Andorra tourist site.